Jeff Fleischer


Voting, Elections, and the U.S. Political System



Joining LitPick today for an Extra Credit interview is Jeff Fleischer! Jeff’s most recent, and very timely book, Votes of Confidence: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections comes out May 3rd. In addition to Votes of Confidence, Jeff is the author of Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries from Joan of Arc to Malcolm X and The Latest Craxe: A Short History of Mass Hysterias. Jeff has been a journalist for over 15 years and has lived in three states and three countries. His work has appeared in more than 30 nations and on every continent except Antarctica.

Do you have a solid outline before writing, or do you usually get ideas as you go along?

For non-fiction projects, I usually have a general outline of what the chapters will be and about how long each will be, but it still changes during the course of writing. For Rockin’ the Boat, for example, I had an original list of fifty revolutionaries when I started writing, but three or four were swapped out during the project. For Votes of Confidence, I had an outline of subjects to make sure I covered them, but the order changed between the proposal and the final book. For fiction, I never outline at all, though I sometimes have ideas about where the story’s going and some of what will happen along the way.

Has someone you knew ever appeared as a character in a book (consciously or subconsciously)?

Never consciously. Subconsciously, probably, though I don’t know who or when.  

What do you do when you get writer's block?

I usually have several projects in the works at any one time, so I might take a break from one to work on another, if the deadline allows. There was a short stretch during the writing of my last book where I felt stuck, so I wrote a few short-fiction pieces based on specific prompts I got via e-mail. The prompts had set word counts, so they were things I could write quickly to feel like I was finishing projects and getting things done. All of those stories have since appeared in literary magazines, so that was a nice bonus, and it got me energized for work on the big project.  

If you could live in a book's world, which would you choose?

As a kid, I would have picked something like the version of London from the various Paddington stories, and that’s probably still a good call. Modern enough to have movie theaters and good music (and indoor plumbing), but still quaint and charming.  

What is your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?

That’s a tough one. I feel like it’s too easy to say something like The Godfather, where the movie is almost universally considered better than the book. So I’ll go with the Lord of the Rings movies. They made some definite improvements in updating the source material (which I’d read before but not in many years), and were a lot more fun than I expected. Plus I got to see the third one premiere in New Zealand while I was there on assignment, and I saw them a lot when I lived in Wellington years later, so those movies also have a personal nostalgia quality.

If you could have lunch with one other author (dead or alive!), who would it be?

There are a lot of good choices, but I’ll go with my default answer of Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve been a fan of his a long time, and there would be a lot to talk about.

Wild Card Question: Reading your bio on your website, you have interviewed a wide variety of people. Is there a favorite interview you can tell us about or story from an interview you can share with us, and who would you like to interview?

For a favorite interview, with apologies to a lot of other people, it was probably getting to interview Terry Jones from Monty Python. I was working at a current-affairs magazine when he put out a book of current-affairs columns he’d written for The Guardian, so I pitched my editor on the idea. There’s always a slight fear when you’re interviewing someone whose work you’ve really liked that they might be a jerk and that would change how you feel about that work (which hasn’t happened to me often, but has happened). Turns out I didn’t have to worry about that at all, because he could not have been nicer, funnier, or more interesting to interview, to the point we went well over on time but could have talked much longer. It’s rare to find yourself laughing again while transcribing an interview.


Jeff, thank you for visiting LitPick! It’s really cool that you were able to attend the premiere of Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, where much of it was filmed!




Today LitPick is pleased to welcome Jeff Fleischer for Six Minutes with an Author! Jeff is the author of The Latest Craze: A Short History of Mass Hysterias and the recently released Rockin’ the Boat which details the lives of 50 revolutionaries throughout history.

Jeff has lived in three states and three countries, and his work has appeared in more than 30 nations and every continent except Antarctica.

How did you get started writing?

I started reading early, and when I was very little I used to tell stories about what happened to the characters after the book ended or make up new adventures for them, so that's probably how I got started. I wrote a lot of fiction in elementary school, and my teachers often had me read the stories to the rest of the class. By the time we started talking about careers in school, I already knew I wanted to be a writer, and in high school I started working at the school newspaper and preparing for a career in journalism. Most of my writing since than has been journalism or history, though I still write fiction in my spare time.

Who influenced you?

In the writing sense, my biggest influence was Studs Terkel, who always made history engaging by having people from all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives tell their stories. There are a lot of others writers whose work definitely influenced the way I read and write, including Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, E.B. White, Richard Adams...that list could go on for a few pages. As far as this Rockin’ the Boat, some of the people profiled in it are people I admire in general (Nelson Mandela, Kate Sheppard, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.), so they definitely had an influence on how the book took shape. 

Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?

My favorite characters are generally underdogs, and (though there are many exceptions) I'm most interested in stories that start with characters who react to something unusual or unexpected happening to them or around them. That's true when I read novels or watch movies, but it also partly explains why it made sense for me to write a book about revolutionaries; they're underdogs reacting to their circumstances.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?

Probably the same advice most authors would give. Write a lot, and write a lot of different things. That's true for reading as well; keep trying new kinds of writing and expand your comfort zone. Another really important thing is learning how to be edited and how to rewrite. Working with good editors will make you a better writer, and rewriting makes sure you publish something when it's ready, and not just when it's done. Getting published - in newspapers, magazines, literary journals - is really important. It gets you used to writing for a large audience, and gives you real feedback from people with experience.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I'm hoping to one day get a place where I can have a home office that's set up perfectly for how I like to write. In the meantime, I like to mix it up. I write in coffee shops and libraries a lot. If I'm in a place where the weather's good and there's a quiet space, I like writing outside. 

What else would you like to tell us?

Rockin' the Boat is my second book. I'm also writing another book that will come out in 2016, and I have a few other book projects in the works. Writing is a hard career, but it's always an interesting one. It has let me work in other countries, interview important people, and share my work with people around the world. Anyone wanting to become a writer should be realistic about how much work it takes and how competitive the field is. Still, if they keep writing, they have a shot at a career where working is what they get to do instead of what they have to do.

Jeff, thank you for spending six minutes with LitPick. Thank you for sharing your excellent advice to learn how to be edited and to rewrite!